Giving Compass' Take:

• Susan Keown reports that a Phase 1 trial using a virus to teach the immune system to fight cancer showed promising results.

• How can funders help to bring promising early results through the process to the public? 

• Learn how to find and fund scientific research

They’re just strings of genetic material encased in protein. But for all their lack of frills, viruses have an incredible talent for infecting host cells. Although this finely honed ability has resulted in countless deadly pandemics throughout history, it also makes viruses a useful tool with the potential to save lives.

At the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, a team of scientists reported the results of an early-stage clinical trial of a cancer vaccine that uses an engineered virus to teach patients’ immune systems to recognize and kill tumor cells.

As a Phase 1 trial, the study was designed to evaluate the vaccine’s safety, home in on dosage and build a foundation for future trials. But signs of the experimental vaccine’s effects on the growth of advanced sarcoma tumors — and patient survival — were hopeful, the investigators reported.

“The results, so far, are exciting and show that the vaccine works, generates an immune response and stabilizes tumors, and [it] will definitely lead to additional studies,” said study leader Dr. Neeta Somaiah of MD Anderson Cancer Center, who presented the main trial results at the meeting, which is being held through Tuesday in Chicago. “Hopefully, if we design the studies right, we will have this as a treatment option in the near future.”

At the meeting, Somaiah reported that in 16 of 25 participants with advanced soft-tissue sarcoma, tumors were stable after the patients received injections of the experimental vaccine, dubbed CMB305. Of these, about three-quarters had no disease progression by three months and 83 percent of them were still alive after one year.

Read the full article about teaching the immune system to kill cancer by Susan Keown at Fred Hutch.